Paving the Way for a Sustainable Bioeconomy
Imagine a world where agricultural residues are no longer seen as waste, but as valuable resources that power the bioeconomy; a future where farmers enable the emergence and growth of sustainable industries on a large scale.
As pledges for decarbonisation are made globally, carbon is being increasingly recognised as a valuable - yet finite - resource. To solve this, there is a growing push to develop sustainable and circular economies, leveraging numerous underutilized and wasted carbon streams that are in ample supply. These waste streams have the potential to be harnessed as raw materials without jeopardizing food supply, providing incredible opportunities to drive a transition in carbon sourcing for manufacturing and reshape our economic system. Furthermore, advancements in biotechnology and biomanufacturing processes are increasingly enabling the sustainable and cost-effective transformation of these raw materials into products. But despite all this, we are still failing to harness these resources effectively. Vast amounts of potential feedstocks continue to be wasted or used for low-value applications, meaning that a huge gap remains to be bridged to eliminate our dependencies on fossil carbon.
THE WORLD PRODUCES VAST AMOUNTS OF BIOMASS, YET ONLY A FRACTION IS HARNESSED
Globally, each year, approximately 140 Gt of biomass waste are generated from agricultural practices, yet only a fraction is harnessed. Agricultural residues are particularly attractive due to their sheer volume and steady supply, in contrast to sources like food waste that are subject to active reduction efforts. However, these residues have traditionally been challenging to utilise effectively given the local variance in their quality and quantity, which is affected by crop types, growing periods, geography, and weather conditions - not to mention seasonality in supply, only being available after a harvest.
In very large-scale farms, one-to-one agreements can be established with off-takers, such as the bioenergy industry. Nonetheless, most farming systems and prospective off-takers find it significantly more challenging to secure consistent feedstock supply agreements. As a result, biomass is left to decompose, constraining growth of the bioeconomy and bio-based industries. Furthermore, even when biomass is utilised, it is typically employed for a single fraction and one specific purpose, meaning the value of a wastestream’s total chemical complexity is underutilised.
Progress in advancing the bioeconomy and bio-based industries has revealed the significant potential of scaling and transforming raw materials into many of the products that society relies on. This includes creating molecules comparable to those derived from fossil carbon and even molecules with superior performance. Nevertheless, the realization of a circular bioeconomy will largely rely on the availability of feedstock inputs, both in terms of their quality and quantity and our capacity to convert them into a variety of products that can integrate into supply chains.
OUR APPROACH TO THIS OPPORTUNITY
Our mission is to unlock the latent potential of biomass waste streams in their entirety by creating a commodities market for bio-based waste streams. As these biomass streams are recognised as resources, they are transformed from waste into a valuable but hyper heterogeneous class of new commodities; commodities without distribution channels, marketplaces, pricing mechanisms or standardisation. The ability to aggregate and segregate agricultural residues and support optimal bid/offer matching can fuel the coming era of industrial advancement as the demand for biobased solutions and feedstocks increases globally. The best way forward is to develop solutions that capture biomass residues on an unprecedented scale, overcoming local farm-level and seasonal variabilities, tapping into the full potential of these resources, and breaking away from the single use paradigm.
There are two primary challenges that must be overcome: the first revolves around the logistics of capturing agricultural waste streams and developing an efficient bid/offer model that can underpin a circular economy commodities market. This encompasses the processes of harvesting, transporting, pre-processing, storing and delivering the biomass to its final destination. The second challenge pertains to optimizing the fractionation and blending of biomass to produce a variety of feedstocks that yield value-added commodities and inputs into other industries.
Our proposed solution aims to cater to the needs of both producers and buyers. Initially, our objective is to develop a robust matching mechanism, essentially a waste biomass commodities platform that considers parameters such as geographical region, volume, certifications, regulatory requirements, and notably, a comprehensive traceability component. The core objective is to accurately predict, locate and source available biomass at a previously impossible scale, which can then be engineered into feedstocks possessing customized properties that align with the diverse requirements of various industries.
The envisioned technology for producing these feedstocks integrates intelligent sampling and analysis, feeding into precise processing methods for fractionating biomass into its constituent components. This allows us to perceive biomass as a mix of fractions, each with the potential of being distilled into valuable compounds or ingredients that can then be strategically (re)combined to meet the needs of different industries, serving as foundational feedstocks for multiple bioeconomy sectors. Our approach will also ensure the continuity of availability of certain fractions and waste streams throughout the year by developing preservation methods to overcome seasonality constraints.
Conceptually, this idea can be understood as a hybrid digital and physical platform that optimally pairs biomass supply sources with end users. Imagine the potential to blend waste streams from palm oil, banana, and pineapple residues to produce ingredients for industries, spanning from insect farming and biogas plants, to fermentation facilities; or products such as animal feed, and construction materials. This methodology optimizes biomass utilization, ensuring components are used in their most valuable forms. Furthermore, we can optimize the energy and costs associated with feedstock sourcing and processing, while maximizing the derived value by aligning the feedstock's end use with its inherent properties and moving towards continuous availability year round. As a broader ambition, it can evolve into a global supplier of macro-ingredients for the bioeconomy sector.
JOIN US IN PAVING THE WAY FOR A SUSTAINABLE BIOECONOMY
At Deep Science Ventures, we are working to maximize the value derived from sustainable biomass sources and transform the way we utilize agricultural byproducts. We are now seeking outstanding Founders to lead a new venture in this area: one with expertise in the design and deployment of biomass processing technologies, and a second role for an experienced operator in commodities markets.
This venture creation opportunity is supported by our Tropical Agriculture and Biodiversity Initiative (TABI) partners in Costa Rica. In addition to entrepreneurship training from DSV, Founders on the program have access to TABI program partner experts and advisors from leading local institutions, such as: EARTH University and the Center of Tropical Agricultural Research and Education (CATIE), as well as the CR BioMed Cluster and the Costa Rican Investment Promotion Agency (CINDE). The program is generously funded by Fundación CRUSA.